In the fall, when the migrations occurred, the geese used to fly over in such great numbers that we could hear them inside the house. I remember running to put on my shoes and jacket and rushing out onto the front lawn to try and count them all as they passed by. Giant Vees. Far more than the few I’ve seen in recent years.
This memory just came back to me the other day. It feels half like a dream… how did we hear the geese? Were our windows open in the fall? Was it really so quiet, and the geese really so numerous that we heard them inside? Wasn’t it, rather, that I was already playing in the yard and simply heard the birds before we saw them? I don’t think so, although I have recollections of that happening, too.
There are some things we lose and never remember for years. They are so lost that we do not even know we have forgotten them. When did we lose the awe we felt when we stared into the sky? When did we stop feeling grateful to hear the birds sing?
In the mornings it is still dark when I walk to work. The sparrows congregate in the bushes a few streets over from me. They chirp and sing and scold me as I walk by and I say thank you and good morning and I’m sorry to bother you. And then I laugh and my breath freezes in the air.
I have another memory that has always puzzled me. When I was very young I remember playing in a pile of leaves under the maple tree in our backyard. I was looking through the leaves trying to find the prettiest ones. I remember finding a very small maple leaf that was blue in the middle and had a fringe of yellow and red around the outside. I was so amazed and excited that I dropped the leaf and ran inside to tell my mom that I found a leaf that had turned blue. My mom explained to me that maple leaves did not turn blue in the fall and I insisted I had found one that did. I went back outside and spent the rest of the afternoon sorting through the pile of leaves trying to find that one little leaf, but I never did. But, at that time, this did not stop me from believing that it existed.
I’ve thought back on that memory more than once over the years. I’ve told myself that I must have been confused and I must have imagined it (maple leaves don’t turn blue in the fall)… but I still remember exactly what it looked like.
The ice begins to form on the river then melts. It begins again and melts again. The squirrels in the trees on the riverbanks stand out like blotches of black ink on a white and grey and silver canvass.
They are constantly rooting through the garbage bins behind the building where I live and make half-hearted motions to run for the trees when I pass them coming home from work. I don’t really buy it and they don’t really worry about it. Mostly, we’ve learned to co-exist without ever really registering, or reflecting upon, or caring for the existence of the other. Yep, squirrels. Boring. Yep, humans. Boring. For a second maybe, we remember that there is actually something beautiful about the other, for a second maybe we remember that there is something terrifying about the other. But it passes quickly enough. And we fall back into the worlds we have created for and around ourselves. It’s the same with squirrels as it is with birds and flowers and trees and rivers and stones and earth and sky and fire and children and men and women.
After I had my ankle surgery and I had to crawl slowly and labouriously to the washroom, with my cast weighing painfully on my foot, my cat used to slowly herd me and encourage me on my way there. He would come and rub himself under my chin, go forward a pace or two ahead of me, wait for me to catch up, rub himself under my chin again, and then repeat the process.
He loved me, and when he got sick and I couldn’t afford the surgery bills, I killed him. Well, had him “put down” because he was going to die anyway. It’s odd killing a loved one for money — especially after the way in which he cared for me when I was sick (because, let’s be honest, I could have taken out a loan or sorted out some sort of twelve year payment plan to pay for the surgeries). If I’m capable of doing that, I reckon I’m capable of anything.
There is a parking lot beside my work owned by the local newspaper. It’s kind of out of the way, next to the railroad tracks, on the fringe of downtown in an area that’s mostly quiet apart from the shelter residents or street-involved people who frequent my workplace and the other programs that are offered there. Often, people would hang out on the boundary of the parking lot that borders the train tracks. There were trees there that offered some shelter and some people stored belongings in the trees. It was a place where a person could drink whatever a person chose to drink, even if it was an alcohol-based product not intended for consumption, and chat with friends. I never saw or heard about anybody getting hassled from outside that community (internal conflicts, of course, occur in any community) but the folks from the paper decided to cut down the trees. They’re putting up some fences. We got some advance notice of that at my work but were told not to spread the word in case anybody got upset and… um… did something or something (I’m not sure what they were afraid of but we all complied).
When I was young, I only knew how to whistle when breathing in and not when breathing out. It was a distinctive whistle, but pretty quiet.
One day, my little brother and I were out playing with the neighbours across the road and a stray dog — a whippet — came and, literally, laid down at my feet. I bent down to pet her and she rolled onto her back. She clung to me but was skittish around everybody else. I would whistle in my weird little way and she would run to me. I don’t know why.
I went home with her and my mom called Animal Control to come and pick her up and take her to the pound. She stayed with me while we waited. When the dogcatcher from Animal Control showed up, the dog got scared and ran away. He tried to chase her, but she was very fast and he couldn’t keep up with her. He got worried that he was actually going to lose her in the neighbourhood. Somebody suggested that I catch the dog since she seemed to like me. The dogcatcher gave me a collar and leash and I went down the block after her. I whistled and she stopped. I whistled again and she laid down and waited for me. When I caught up to her, I called her a good girl, I patted her, and I put the collar on her.
I still remember the look she gave me. It was a look of love, of broken-heartedness at my betrayal, and of acceptance or resignation. The love was still there but it was wounded… it wouldn’t be the same. To me, at that age and that time, that’s how it looked. At least that’s how I remember it.
I’d never seen anything like that before (although I would see it again). Everybody told me good job and well done and they said that I must have some sort of gift with animals and I remember my mom telling the story to her friends… but I knew the truth and at that age I learned that people will lie and tell you that you are a good and wonderful and gifted person as long as you are willing to do horrible things for them.
But over time, maybe we forget, and we start to believe those lies. And that’s how we end up with social workers and pastors and servant leaders.
About two weeks ago, I was awake at two in the morning because Ruby was awake at two in the morning and all of a sudden the old prayers I used to pray flooded into my head. The fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5.22-23, the beatitudes from Matthew 5.3-12, the “Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew 6.9-13, and the Jesus prayer. I’ve started to meditate upon these things again.
I once found an abandoned house next to the ravine by my college. There was a hole in the roof and birthday cards for a newborn in the fire place. Fog used to come off of the creek at the bottom of the ravine and it crawled up through the trees and the overgrown grass of the yard. Coming out of the house in the early hours of the morning I was surprised to see a deer and two fawns that had come out of the ravine standing about ten feet away from me. I think they were surprised to see me too, although they didn’t jump or run. We all stood there and looked at one another as the satellites passed over our heads. It was a moment that felt frozen in time. That is to say, part of me is still there. Just like part of me is still petting the dog that laid at my feet (and still looking in her eyes as I put the collar around her neck), and part of me is still saying a tearful farewell to my cat, and part of me is still staring into the sky and counting geese.
What, after all, is time and what, in the world, made me imagine that I’m a singularity?
About a year ago, I had the following dream: Charlie had a nightmare and I was laying down with him in his bed. He feel asleep and I held him and felt his chest rise and fall. Looking up from the bed, I saw, gathered in the room before me, all the children who had died in documentaries I had watched recently. Dead children in the Sudan, children who starved to death in Somalia, children with bloated stomachs, children hacked to death by machetes, all of them, row upon row, looking at me. And this is what their faces said:
“Do not turn your children into us — orphans, forsaken, unloved. Sacrifices.”
There was no judgment, there was no condemnation (even though I, too, am responsible for their deaths and the deaths of their parents and aunts and uncles and languages and cultures and memories and worlds). It was only that.
I knew then, that I would never leave you nor forsake you.
Look, do you see it? Outside the glow of the fire, there, where the horizon has begun to lighten. The seasons are changing. You can smell it in the air. Do you understand? The sun is rising. We are being made new.
Even if part of me is still there
at the altar
saying “I do.”